Wednesday, October 02, 2013


With the slight hiccup we experienced at the beginning of our trip with Virgin Atlantic stealing 1.5 days of our vacation, we hadn't yet gotten to do those first days in a new city activities like the hop on / hop off bus. I know it's touristy, and sometimes expensive, but in both Dublin and now Edinburgh we found it a good way to get a feel for the city ... see where famous and historic sites are in relation to one another and get a high level overview about things maybe you didn't know you were interested in.

To kick off our last day in Edinburgh we took the bus down to see Holyrood Palace (also called the Palace of Holyroodhouse). I was very interested in visiting this working royal residence, but Alan was only somewhat interested. Well, I'm happy to say that the tour was really quite good and by the time we were done Alan was very happy to have visited. Before we went in though (no pictures, I'm afraid) we stopped for a spot of tea at the Palace Cafe (or whatever it's called).
The Palace of Holyroodhouse, commonly referred to as Holyrood Palace, is the official residence of the Monarch of the United Kingdom in Scotland. Located at the bottom of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, at the opposite end to Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace has served as the principal residence of the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 16th century, and is a setting for state occasions and official entertaining.
Holyrood Abbey was founded by David I, King of Scots, in 1128, and the abbey's position close to Edinburgh Castle meant that it was often visited by Scotland's monarchs, who were lodged in the guest house situated to the west of the abbey cloister. James IV constructed a new palace adjacent to the abbey in the early 16th century, and James V made additions to the palace, including the present north-west tower. Holyrood Palace was re-constructed in its present form between 1671 and 1679 to the Baroque design of the architect Sir William Bruce, forming four wings around a central courtyard, with a west front linking the 16th-century north-west tower with a matching south-west tower. The Queen's Gallery was built adjacent to the palace and opened to the public in 2002 to exhibit works of art from the Royal Collection. 
Queen Elizabeth spends one week in residence at Holyrood Palace at the beginning of each summer, where she carries out a range of official engagements and ceremonies. The 16th century Historic Apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots and the State Apartments, used for official and state entertaining, are open to the public throughout the year, except when members of the Royal Family are in residence.

This area is also home to the ancient Holyrood Abbey ruins, and Holyrood Park.
Holyrood Abbey: The ruined Augustinian abbey that is sited in the grounds was founded in 1128 at the order of King David I of Scotland. The name derives either from a legendary vision of the cross witnessed by David I, or from a relic of the True Cross known as the Holy Rood or Black Rood, and which had belonged to Queen Margaret, David's mother. As a royal foundation, and sited close to Edinburgh Castle, it became an important administrative centre. A Papal legate was received here in 1177, while in 1189 a council of nobles met to discuss a ransom for the captive king, William the Lion. Robert the Bruce held a parliament at the abbey in 1326, and by 1329 it may already have been in use as a royal residence. In 1370, David II became the first of several Kings of Scots to be buried at Holyrood. Not only was James II born at Holyrood in 1430, it was at Holyrood that he was crowned, married and laid to rest. James III and Margaret of Denmark were married at Holyrood in 1469. The early royal residence was in the abbey guesthouse, which most likely stood on the site of the present north range of the palace, west of the abbey cloister, and by the later 15th century already had dedicated royal apartments. 
Holyrood Park: Holyrood Park (also called the Queen's Park or King's Park depending on the reigning monarch's gender) is a royal park in central Edinburgh, Scotland about a mile to the east of Edinburgh Castle. It has an array of hills, lochs, glens, ridges, basalt cliffs, and patches of whin (gorse) providing a remarkably wild piece of highland landscape within its 650-acre area. The park is associated with the royal palace of Holyroodhouse and was formerly a 12th-century royal hunting estate. The park was created in 1541 when James V had the ground "circulit about Arthurs Sett, Salisborie and Duddingston craggis" enclosed by a stone wall. Holyrood Park is now publicly accessible. Arthur's Seat, the highest point in Edinburgh, is at the centre of the park, with the cliffs of Salisbury Crags to the west. There are three lochs; St Margaret's Loch, Dunsapie Loch, and Duddingston Loch. The ruined St Anthony's Chapel stands above St Margaret's Loch. Queen's Drive is the main route through the Park, and is partly closed on Sundays to motor vehicles. St Margaret's Well and St Anthony's Well are both natural springs within the park. Holyrood Park is located to the south-east of the Old Town, at the edge of the city centre. Abbeyhill is to the north, and Duddingston village to the east. The University of Edinburgh's Pollock Halls of Residence are to the south-west, and Dumbiedykes is to the west. 

Leaving the Palace and Abbey, we stayed on the bus for a little while so that we could do the full circuit and so that it could take us to the museum from the Palace as normally that's quite a long walk up the Royal Mile. It was also a good opportunity for some photo taking as Edinburgh - in case you can't tell - is an incredibly scenic city with hundreds of photo opps around every corner.

Our next stop - in the rain (yes, the sky went from this blue to rain in a matter of six to seven minutes) - was the National Museum of Scotland. Museums in Edinburgh are free, so this was a good way to get out of the weather, and to continue to educate ourselves about the history of the city. Had we gone here our first day - as planned - I would have checked out the Mary Queen of Scots exhibit, but given our trips to Stirling Castle, Edinburgh Castle, and Holyrood House (including Mary's rooms where her secretary had been murdered), I felt like I had a pretty good grasp of her life and her history so we decided to skip it so that we could spend more time site-seeing elsewhere. We spent our time first in the main gallery, which was beautiful, before making our way to the Kingdom of Scots exhibit. This exhibit covers basically the first known origins of man on the island, up until now. I wasn't entirely thrilled with the set up of the exhibit as I felt like some of the artifacts were incredibly hard to see given the way they were laid out within other sculptures, so we didn't spend much time on the early years. That said, one of the most impressive things in the entirety of the exhibit was the chess set. 

From there we stopped at Grayfriars Bobby across the street for a pint or two and to write in the travel journal that I made Alan buy for me and then only wrote about half of our trip in. Oops. We also spent some more time in Greyfriars Kirkyard, and thankfully once again I did not feel any malevolent spirits because that place is just so darn beautiful and peaceful.

Wanting to make the most of our last day, we stopped in to a pub that we hadn't been to yet - The Last Drop. 
The Last Drop is a macabre reference to the last hanging in the Grassmarket. Its fair to say we have a suitably spooky heritage as we are allegedly haunted by the spirit of a small girl in medieval clothing. Sightings of our young spirit have been reported in the cellar and in the bar area. Tenements once stood on this site, but these were rebuilt into the pub you see today using the old building's original 17th Century stone.
Unfortunately this proved to be a bit of a bust. While we got a good seat, the music was really strange here (a mixture of 90s adult contemporary and 80s new wave), and the beer I had was skunked. If you're ever in Edinburgh, and in Grassmarket specifically, I wouldn't recommend you stop here. There are far too many other great pubs in the area to waste your time with this one.

We went back to the hotel for a nap, and then hit up the first pub we visited for the Literary Pub Crawl for dinner and a pint or two. Then we went up the street to The White Hart Inn, reputedly the oldest pub in the area, for more beer. We were lucky in that to close our our night they had live music as well.
Edinburgh is one of the UK's most haunted cities and The White Hart Inn is no exception. It stands out amongst the other Grassmarket pubs, and its legacy is equally prominent. Claimed to be Edinburgh's oldest pub, with parts of the building and cellar dating back to 1516, the remainder of the pub is said to descend from 1740. The name dates back to an incident in 1128 when King David I encountered a white stag while hunting in what is now Holyrood Park.

We had an incredibly early wake up call the next morning to hop on a flight back to the U.S. (via London), so we called it a night around 10 p.m., walking back to our hotel, our path lit from the lights from the castle up on the hill.